Cedarwood Essential Oil

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Cedarwood essential oil is a characteristic of the musky, woody, rustic aroma of the coniferous forest. Cedarwood oil of the ancients used to come from the famed Lebanon cedars (Cedrus libani). This cedar oil was used in one of the methods of embalming practiced by the ancient Egyptians for mummification. Egyptians had figured out that cedar wood and its oil keep almost all insects away, and this way they were able to preserve the skin for longer periods. Modern scientific studies confirms this comprehensive insecticidal effect of cedarwoods.



Currently, cedarwood essential oil is mainly distilled from three tree species- the Virginia cedar, Texas cedarwood and the Chinese cedarwood. But there are many more varieties from which minor amounts of oil is extracted, mainly for medicinal purposes. Cedarwood essential oil is reputed in aromatherapy for inducing relaxation, serenity and calmness. It has a peculiar capability to help a person to feel more grounded and connected with the earth, particularly because of its refreshing woody aroma. Research has provided us with credible information about the health benefits that cedarwood oil exerts, and the mechanisms underlying these benefits. We can make use of cedarwood oil in not just aromatherapy, but even in a clinical setting, for skin and hair conditioning and as a powerful natural insecticide in our homes.

Source

Cedarwood essential oil can come from any of at least a dozen different tree varieties. Most of them belong to the cypress family (Cupressaceae). One a few species belong to the original pine family. Majestic cedar forests of Lebanon, mentioned in religious and historical texts, have almost all been lost. Kings of far off lands would send their diplomats and teams to get the coveted wood, and it was used in the most lavish palatial buildings. Currently, only two cedar species are used for extracting essential oil. These are – the Himalayan cedar, which is also known as deodar. It is a truly mighty tree, growing to heights of 60 meters! The other one is Atlas cedar, which grows naturally in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco.

Most of the essential oil available on the market comes either from Virginia cedarwood, Texas cedarwood or the Chinese cedarwood.



Pinaceae (Pine family)
Cedrus deodara Himalayan cedar, or deodar
Cedrus atlantica Atlas cedar
Cedrus libani Lebanon cedar
Cupressaceae (Cypress family)
Cupressus funebris Chinese cedar
Juniperus virginiana Virginia cedar
Juniperus Mexicana Schiede Texas cedarwood

Source: 1

Cedarwood oils from each of the different species has differences in chemical composition, causing differences in the aromas, color, and even the health benefits.

Cedarwood essential oil is not very difficult to extract. It is obtained via steam distillation. In most cases, wood shavings left over from wood processing are used. In case of juniper species, berries and leaves are also sometimes used. Some firms use chemicals, like methanol or supercritical steam for extraction.

Color and Aroma

Virginian cedarwood oil has a pale yellow color. It is clear in texture. Its aroma is characteristically woody and coniferous, with strong hints of balsam, musk and amber. It is refreshing but mildly warming. But is not as warming as essential oils of spices.

Atlas cedarwood essential has a more brownish yellow color tone. Its aroma feels much more medicinal and has a distinct camphor like tone, which feels cooling like menthol, but actually creates a sensation of warmth.

Therapeutic Properties

Differing species of cedarwood exert their specific pharmacological effects. Despite belonging to same or related botanical families, they do maintain their individuality.

Deodar (Cedrus deodara)



Quite possibly the most medicinal of all the cedarwood oils, it is most renowned for its ability to calm joint pains due to arthritis.

  • Anti-inflammatory – A medical study conducted in 1999 demonstrated that essential oil of Cedrus deodara has pronounced inflammation reducing property. Coupled with this, it was also shown to be analgesic, that is, a pain reliever. These two properties make it incredibly useful in treating rheumatic joint pains. [2]
  • Anti-mange – It treats and heals sarcoptic mange in horse, buffalo, and other common domesticated animals. It is diluted in suitable base oil, like that of soybean or castor and applied onto the affected part of the suffering animal. [2]
  • Anti-fungal [1]

Atlas cedar (Cedrus atlantica)

  • Anti-dandruff – it is used in haircare formulations to get rid of dandruff. [3]
  • Anti-fungal – It is helpful in fungal skin infections. [3]
  • Anti-microbial – It is used in treatment of bronchitis and even tuberculosis. [3]
  • Nervine – It calms tense nerves. [3]
  • Expectorant – It aids in expelling phlegm from the respiratory tract and is therefore used in bronchitis and even in tuberculosis. [3]

Virginia cedarwood (Juniperus virginiana)

  • Anti-bacterial – powerful killer of gram-negative bacteria, like E. coli and P. a eruginosa.
  • Anti-fungal – This effect is attributed to alpha and beta pinenes. These belong to class of volatile compounds called monoterpenes. However, virginia cedarwood essential was not very effective against Candida albicans fungus.
  • Relaxant – A widely cited study demonstrated that cedrol, a compound found in Virginia cedarwood essential oil, induces relaxation by reducing heart rate and relaxation rate. It also brings about a reduction in blood pressure. [4] Diffusing Virginia cedarwood essential oil thus aids greatly in achieving a relaxed state of body and mind.
  • Insect repellant – Oils rich in cedrol are potent at keeping pests at bay.

Health Benefits and Uses

Aromatherapy

Cedarwood essential oils are incredibly useful in aromatherapy because they help to achieve a state of relaxation. It also helps to achieve a grounded state, wherein we begin to feel more connected to our earth and our natural surroundings. And this connection is required once a while because more often than not, we are mostly living in habitations created by us – the asphalt roads, concrete buildings, aluminum panels, synthetic fibers, automobiles and so on. The primal human needs for living in equilibrium with nature – cool and fresh riverine waters, walking on natural dewy grasses, the smell of earth upon rain, wheat swaying in the wind, such desires seem to be have been left behind. Obtaining a grounded state aids a lot in meditation and spiritual exercises. Cedarwood essential oil is thus useful in meditation. Some people add that it adds a sense of “home” to a new house.

Cedarwood contains a natural volatile compound, known as cedrol. Peer reviewed research has proved that inhalation of air containing minute amounts of cedrol reduces the heart rate and respiration rate significantly. In tandem, it also begins to reduce the systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Most importantly, it was found through analysis of spectral components of a human heart beat that cedrol reduces activity of the sympathetic nervous system while increasing activity of parasympathetic nervous system. This is the very basis of its powerful relaxant effect. [4]

We do not know the concentration of cedrol in essential oils of true cedars – neither the Himalayan deodar, the Lebanon cedar or the Atlas cedar. Texas cedarwood has about 20% cedrol and Virginia cedar contains on average 15% cedrol. Oil from any of these two species can be used to create a relaxing aroma. [5]

In another research, essential oil from Japanese cedarwood was diffused in a room where a select group of people were asked to perform a set of tedious mathematical sums. It was found in controlled setting that cedarwood essential oil brought about a reduction in stress levels of the people. Aroma of cedarwood had reduced secretion of certain salivary enzymes that are only released when we are under stress. [6] As stress levels goes down, it is quite possible that our productivity at work would improve and we would be able to accomplish work in shorter spans of time. With further research, we can begin to make use of certain essential oils in work environments to create a more conducive environment for work, but obviously with the consent of all.

Cedarwood essential oil forms a base note of perfumery and aromatherapy blends. It lends strength and long-lasting character to a blend. It goes with essential oil of lavender and some floral oils, like rose, jasmine and neroli. For top notes, some essential oils of citrus make a wonderful addition to the blend. Make use of bergamot in the blend for a sharp, citrusy aroma.

Acne

Cedarwood essential oil can be made use of in subsiding an active acne outburst. Essential oil of Atlas cedarwood is recommended for application as topical agent against acne. An oil-in-oil formulation containing 10 drops of atlas cedarwood essential oil in 100 ml of organic jojoba oil should be prepared and kept in amber colored glass bottle. Jojoba oil is to be used because it has zero comedogenicity rating. Cedarwood essential oil does not seem to posses any strong anti-bacterial effect against the bacteria that are primarily considered responsible for perpetrating acne. However, experience gained by its use over time has demonstrated that it is helpful in reducing excessive oil on the skin. Since oily skin is more prone to acne, this could very well be the mechanism by which cedarwood essential oil acts. It is noted for its ability to shrink pores on the skin, an astringent quality. However, this oil may not be as effective as essential oil of lavender, tea tree oil or frankincense for controlling breakouts of acne.

Rheumatic Joint Pain

One of the most powerful essential oils for reducing the stinging, burning joint pain that accompanies rheumatic arthritis is that of Himalayan cedar, also known as deodar. As mentioned in the section on Therapeutic properties, we saw that it has potent anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects. 10 to 20 drops of deodar essential oil should be added to 100 ml of soybean oil. This should be mixed well and stored in a tinted glass bottle. This mixture should be rubbed onto the painful joints. The volatile compounds from deodar oil are carried into our body through the skin, dissolved in soybean oil. Topical therapies for joint pain caused by rheumatism take a long time to show results. It may be 4 weeks before any noticeable change in pain perception is experienced.

Dandruff Treatment

Cedarwood essential oil from Atlas cedar is good for shedding out excess dandruff which emerges with the autumn and stays all winter. Cedarwood essential oils are coniferous oils, and as such are warming in their after-effect. The essential oil should be dissolved in a suitable hair oil, like coconut oil or olive oil. Use only about 1-2 drops per teaspoon (5ml) of oil. Dissolve the essential oil and the base oil using a stirrer made of stainless steel. Then this mixture can be applied onto damp hair before a shower. It must be gently rubbed into the scalp for not more than 3 minutes. Then one should take a shower. It is not a safe step to keep essential oils longer on the scalp. They are quite sensitizing. It takes many pounds of wood to distil just about 10ml of essential oil. They are very concentrated. Secondly, the skin of our scalp is much more sensitive than that of our face. One should always do a patch test by using diluted essential oil on the forearm before using it on the scalp. That said, cedarwood essential oil can help to get out dandruff but only to a limited extent.

For persistent dandruff, essential oils of lemongrass and tea tree oil have shown good results in medical trials.

Anti-ulcer

A study was conducted to determine the effect of essential oil of Himalayan cedar (deodar) for understanding its anti-ulcerative effects. It was found that the essential oil reduces gastric secretions and also lowered the acidity of gastric acid. This effect was demonstrated in rats, but we need studies with humans for more conclusive evidence. [7] This study is of incredible significance to those suffering from heartburn due to gastro-esophageal reflux disease. An essential oil-based therapy may be used as an adjunct to regular treatment.

Sleep Aid for Women

A Japanese study has proven that inhalation of cedrol (a volatile compound found in Virginia cedarwood and Texas cedarwood) helps with sleep issues in women. It was diffused for 4 hours each night, which included 2 hours before lights get turned off, and 2 hours after that. Polysomnography tests concluded that it reduced the time it takes to fall asleep and it also increased the number of hours of sleep. What is even more interesting is that it improves sleep efficiency as well. Sleep efficiency marks out how well a person sleeps. If one gets up often during sleep and takes a long time to fall asleep initially, that downs sleep efficiency scores. [8]

A good sound sleep at night is the key to a fresh start to any day with vigor and positivity, without having to deal with fatigue. For availing this benefit, it is best to go for Virginia cedarwood essential oil because it has a documented cedrol content of about 15%.

Hair Loss

Cedarwood essential oil has been documented that it helps in treating alopecia areata. A formulation containing these 4 essential oils: thyme, rosemary, cedarwood and lavender) were dissolved in a base oil consisting of jojoba and grapeseed oils. This oil was applied on scalp of people suffering from alopecia areata (patchy hair loss) for a long duration of 7 months. It was compared against a control group that used just the base oils, so that it could be proven conclusively that any improvement is courtesy the essential oil, and not the base oil. This was important because even base oils have strong medicinal effects. The results showed that the essential oil formula worked to reduce balding patches in 44% of the patients.

Other Uses for Cedarwood EO

It is noted for its powerful insect repellant and even insect killing ability. Virginia cedarwood based products are used as household pesticides and are recognized by the EPA. It is used to drive away moths from clothes in a closet. Cedarwood oil is used as a tag on pet collars to keep fleas off. What is important to note here is that while most chemical pesticides are toxic, EPA notes that cedarwood oils’s mechanism to repel insects is non-toxic. Secondly, its usage creates much less exposure to others, when compared to chemical pesticides. [9]

Another interesting use for cedarwood essential oil is to get rid of smelly feet. This strange but very common condition is known as bromodosis. [10] Cedarwood essential oil has been used to help with this condition. A gentle lukewarm cleanse of the feet using about 10 liters of water with 5 drops of essential oil would be enough. The water must be stirred well to disperse oil. This is necessary because essential oils do not dissolve in water. They can only be spread around. After the wash, try to dry off feet completely using thick towels. Even driers may be used.

Cedarwood essential oil is also used as an antiseptic on minor cuts and bruises. However, this is inadvisable because pure, undiluted essential oils are very strong and may actually cause more harm.

It is also used on eczema and psoriasis.

Chemical Composition and Medicinal Information

It is seen that the chemical composition of essential oils from the true cedars is different from that of Virginia cedarwood and Texas cedarwood. First let us have a look at the chemical makeup of essential oil of Deodar (Himalayan cedar)

Constituent Type Percentage
alpha himachalene Sesquiterpene 13.29
beta himachalene Sesquiterpene 27.78
gamma himachalene Sesquiterpene 11.28
Beta himachalane oxide Sesquiterpene 9.12
Himachalol Sesquiterpene 2.04
(E)-α-Atlantone Sesquiterpene 9.45
(Z)-α-Atlantone Sesquiterpene 3.4

Source: 11

It is not an understatement that this essential oil is one of the most unique ones on the planet. The natural compounds that it has are rare. It is made up of two major types of organic compounds – the himachalenes and the atlantones. These are heavy molecules, containing many carbon atoms and they evaporate slowly. This gives the essential oil a longer lasting aroma. The himachalenes are responsible for the essential oil’s potent anti-inflammatory powers which also make it a pain reliever. However, there is grave paucity of information about the therapeutic properties of these compounds. The same goes for atlantones.

Now let us compare the above profile of deodar oil with the chemical profile of essential oil of Virginia cedarwood.

Constituent Type Percentage
Thujopsene Sesquiterpene 27.6
Cedrol Sesquiterpene 15.8
∀-Cedrene Sesquiterpene 27.2
∃-Cedrene Sesquiterpene 7.7
∀-Copaene Sesquiterpene 6.3
Widdrol 1.0

Source: 5

Although the essential oil of Virginia cedarwood is dominated by sesquiterpene derivatives, its chemical composition is markedly different from oil from the true cedars.

Cedrol is well studied and we know quite a bit about its medicinal effects. Its ability to induce relaxation by reducing heart rate, respiration rate, blood pressure and the activity of the sympathetic nervous system has been mentioned above. Cedrol could have possible anti-tumor activity against the tumors of bone and soft tissue. These are known as sarcomas. Cedrol may be responsible for anti-tumor activity of the herb Pyrolae herba against chondrosarcomas. This could hold key to developing new medication against these dangerous cancers. [12] Together with thujopsene and cedrane, cedrol exerts potent anti-inflammatory, sedative, antiseptic and relaxant effects. These compounds also make cedar essential oil a powerful insect repellant and an antifungal.

Side Effects and Toxicity Issues

The US FDA recognizes essential oil from Virginia cedarwood as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) and it is also used as a very common insecticide. Cedar balls, like naphthalene balls, are used in closets to drive off moths. The EPA has noted that there are no instances of cedarwood based products causing severe allergic reactions as long as they are used as mentioned on the product. In fact, we may be using cedar-based compounds almost on a daily basis. The three basic constituents, namely cedrol, thujopsene and cedrenes are often processed (via acetylation) and are added to a plethora of household products, from perfumes,incense sticks, soaps, shampoos, conditioners to car perfumes and even on pet collars.  Only when heavy quantities of it are used for long periods of time can it pose a serious health risk.

However, when it comes to pure, unprocessed essential oils, we must exercise caution. In some studies, it was found that people who used cedarwood essential oil on skin at concentrations ranging from 0.2% (4 drops in 100 ml of base oil) to as high as 20% for 4 days experienced minor levels of skin sensitivity. [13] Therefore, before applying it onto the skin, make sure to dilute it appropriately and always do a patch test.

Note – Essential oil from cedrus atlantica can be more dangerous. It may contain small amounts of a compound known as longifolene which may lead to an allergic reaction.

Any kind of cedarwood based essential oi should not be swallowed, neither in pure form nor in diluted manner. It should be kept far away from reach of kids and must not be diffused in presence of infants and pregnant women. If you are currently on any medication, do make sure to consult a doctor before starting to use cedarwood essential oil. There is still not enough information and clarity about its possible drug interactions, say for example with drugs that meant for high blood pressure, or for relief from anxiety.

Buying Guide and Storage

It is important to buy from a firm that has earned a reputation for sustainable exploitation of resources. Species of true cedars are threatened since ancient times because of their enduring aromas and medicinal properties. Secondly, make sure to check if the firm displays information about the chemical composition of their product (done through GC-MS analyzer), the species of tree used, parts of the tree used, where was the tree sourced from. It is also important to read reviews about the storage, transportation and packaging of the product. Essential oils contain volatile and active constituents and they can easily react with certain metals and plastics.

It should be stored in an amber tinted glass bottle away from direct sunlight and heat. Essential oils should not be kept in the kitchen as they can spontaneously combust. Cedarwood essential oils have longer shelf lives of 3 years because of a majority of sesquiterpene type compounds in them.

References

  1. Cedarwood oils – FAO.
  2. Himalaya Wellness – Herbal monograph – Deodar, Himalayan cedar, True cedar.
  3. Cedrus Atlantica (Endl.) Carrière. PFAF
  4. Autonomic responses during inhalation of natural fragrance of Cedrol in humans. Dayawansa S. et al, Autonomic Neuroscience 2003 Oct 31;108(1-2):79-86.
  5. Cedarwood oil – National Toxicology Program, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  6. Essential Oil of Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) Wood Increases Salivary Dehydroepiandrosterone Sulfate Levels after Monotonous Work. Eri Matsubara et al, Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2017 Jan; 14(1): 97.
  7. PHYTOCHEMISTRY AND PHARMACOLOGYOF CEDRUS DEODERA:AN OVERVIEW. Sumeet Gupta et al, IJPSR, 2011; Vol. 2(8): 2010-2020.
  8. THE EFFECTS OF CEDROL ON SLEEP. Yamamoto et al, Japanese Journal of Physiological Anthropology.
  9. https://www3.epa.gov/pesticides/chem_search/reg_actions/reregistration/fs_PC-040505_1-Sep-93.pdf
  10. Commercial Essential Oils as Potential Antimicrobials to Treat Skin Diseases. Ane Orchard and Sandy van Vuuren, Evidence Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
  11. Chemical Composition and Larvicidal Activities of the Himalayan Cedar, Cedrus deodara Essential Oil and Its Fractions Against the Diamondback Moth, Plutella xylostella. Abha Chaudhary et al, Journal of Insect Science.
  12. https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search/a?dbs+hsdb:@[email protected]+8265
  13. Dose-response assessment of the dermal toxicity of Virginia Cedarwood Oil in F344/N rats and B6C3F1/N mice. Natasha R. Catlin et al, Food Chem Toxicol. 2016 Dec; 98(Pt B): 159–168.

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